Recent Acquisition: Webb Corbett design catalogs

The Rakow Research Library staff aims to create a comprehensive collection that tells the story of glass. As you might imagine, in building such an inclusive collection, we come across materials in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Occasionally, some of these materials are in rough shape, but if they are unique or important to glass scholarship we will acquire and care for them knowing the value the item will have for researchers.

I recently encountered such an occasion when these catalogs were offered to the Library:

Stack of catalogs

Photo provided by the vendor of four books of design drawings from Webb Corbett. The books would need to be handled with care, but the illustrations were beautiful.

What seemed at first glance to be a pile of rough papers was actually four catalogs of design drawings from the Thomas Webb and Corbett Ltd. (or Webb Corbett) glass company. Founded in 1897, Webb Corbett was highly regarded for its cut glass and crystal. In 1969, Webb Corbett was purchased by the Royal Daulton Company, which was seeking a range of crystal glassware to complement their fine china. The Webb Corbett name remained on the glassware until 1986, when the name was dropped altogether.

The photos of these catalogs were intriguing, but intimidating.  They were, as the vendor put it, “massive,” “giant,” and “huge.” The design drawings spanned the decades from the 1930s to the 1950s and were sequentially numbered. The spines were bent, the pages ragged, but the drawings were clear and often beautiful.

Page from a design catalog

A detail from a goblet design. Detailed drawings like this can help researchers identify makers and patterns of glass.

Examining the books, it was clear that they would need to be handled with care. The volumes were well-used and had not been handled gently over their life. We also saw what could be signs of mold on the pages, a particularly alarming sign. Active mold can quickly spread to nearby materials, so materials that may have mold are isolated from our main collection in our freezer room. The cold temperature stops active mold from growing or spreading.

Page from a design catalog

A page from the Webb Corbett volumes. Staining such as that seen in the right bottom corner of the volume needs to be examined to determine the cause, and whether there might be active mold (CMGL 167587).

Despite the obvious need for conservation, we decided to purchase the catalogs. These one-of-a-kind volumes contain detailed sketches of each object, along with catalog numbers, dates, indications of when items were discontinued, and notes inscribed in the margins: valuable information for glass researchers interested in Webb Corbett’s glass. We were excited to see them, care for them and add them to our collection of design drawings.

The catalogs are scheduled to be digitized this year, and soon after will be made available on our website for all to use. Check back to explore these beautiful designs for yourself!

Page from a design catalog

A design designated 818. Note the many types of glass that carries the design: glasses for sherry, clarat, sherbet (CMGL 167586).

The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9 am to 5 pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.

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